President of Russia Vladimir Putin: Good afternoon. You are here to present the annual report.
Human Rights Commissioner Tatiana Moskalkova: Mr President, in accordance with Federal Constitutional Law, I would like to present the annual report of the Human Rights Commissioner.
For the first time, an interactive human rights map has been included in the report as its integral part. It brings together information from across the country in its entirety, all reports by human rights commissioners.
Today, the relevant laws are in place and human rights commissioners operate in all 85 regions. This is a consolidated legal framework. Every six months, we hold a Coordinating Council meeting to discuss the most urgent issues and share experience, which is essential to ensure uniformity of our efforts across the country.
Although this report shows that the human rights situation is quite complex, there is still some progress. I would like to show you a chart to visualise this trend. While the number of appeals tends to be on the increase, the number of appeals to the European Court of Human Rights is declining, which means that people have more trust in our system when it comes to protecting and recovering their rights in Russia.
The appeals we receive are indicative of the general human rights trends, and provide a snapshot of the problems that exist in this area. At the recent State Council meeting, you raised the issue of dilapidated and sub-standard housing. I am getting many appeals that have to do with housing.
I am about to complete a thematic report on housing and utilities, since not only dilapidated and sub-standard housing, but also utility rates that are established nobody knows how are a matter of concern.
Tatyana Moskalkova: The programme has been adopted, but it will expire soon. Furthermore, not everyone agreed to restructure the debt. It would be ideal for people to repay the loans at the rate that was valid when they took out their mortgage of course, otherwise many people will have problems.
Another group of problems is connected with the penal and criminal law system. Unfortunately, many people face long pre-trial detentions. I have an example in Rostov Region, where a man was in custody for more than seven years before trial; his detention was extended 28 times.
I should say the law enforcers showed callousness here – they could have applied house arrest. Besides, the law does not allow putting any limits, any barriers to such actions, because detention is limited to 18 months only before the case goes to court. Once the court proceedings have started, the detention period of the accused can be extended without restriction.
Many letters contain requests to treat prisoners more humanely and to move them from one prison to another, closer to their families. However, unfortunately, the law does not allow for this today.
Together with our staff, we have prepared a draft law allowing convicts to be transferred from one penitentiary to another, closer to places where their families live. This should help keep families together, as people often want to visit their relatives in prison, but sometimes it is very expensive; Russia is a large country, and travel can be expensive.
Another matter related to incarceration has to do with releasing critically ill prisoners. Today, courts have the right, but not the obligation to do so. Analysis in this report shows that courts tend to grant freedom to less than half of critically ill prisoners, and people die in prisons. They die while still waiting to be set free, despite being terminally ill. For this reason, I propose amending the law by replacing the right with an obligation for the courts to grant freedom when there is a document confirming critical illness.
As for the short-term objectives, we are thinking about making more efficient use of the available tools. Thank you for expanding the arsenal of tools at our disposal. Human rights commissioners now work in the regions, and should play an even more active role.
We have also started to draft an alternative country report for the UN. It is the right of any Human Rights Commissioner to present this report to the international community, and an obligation for an A-status Human Rights Commissioner.
It is essential that our compatriots abroad feel our support and know that we are there to help them. This year I travelled to Ukraine, and you supported me in this initiative, to visit a pre-trial detention centre where military personnel, Russian citizens, are being kept. Ukraine does not let the consul visit them, because they are regarded as Ukrainian nationals. Incidents of this kind should be made impossible, but if not, the Commissioner should be able to use all available leverage to help these people.
We have signed agreements with many human rights commissioners from other countries and have put forward the idea of establishing a Eurasian alliance of commissioners in the post-Soviet space. While there are no borders that separate us, there are many human rights related issues, especially with migration and employment. I believe that the system as a whole would benefit from this initiative.
I have received appeals regarding the renovation of five-story housing, with people asking to thank you for taking this issue under your personal control. I submitted amendments for the second reading that are aimed at providing better guarantees so that people can stay in the same district when they move from their old homes.
Mr President, I would like to draw your attention to certain high-profile cases, although they might not involve large-scale social violations.
I am now dealing with complaints from people of untraditional sexual orientation about violations of their rights. I sent a number of motions to the prosecutor's office, and to the investigative authorities. I would ask you to issue instructions, possibly setting up an interdepartmental working group that could accept complaints, if any, here in the central part [of the country], not in Chechnya.
It will still be difficult to verify the facts because people are not willing to give their names. At the same time, the law on the protection of witnesses and victims allows us to use powerful levers of state protection and maintain the confidentiality of those who turn to us, enabling them to encrypt their names, issuing them new documents if they are willing to make a statement, so then we would be ready to protect them and restore their rights.
What other issues should I cover? Do you have any questions?
Vladimir Putin: I have no questions. I would just like to say that I will certainly talk with the Prosecutor General, and the Minister of the Interior, and ask them to support you on the issue you raised now – the reports, or rumours rather, about what is happening to people of untraditional sexual orientation in our North Caucasus. This goes without saying. I hope colleagues will respond and you will be supported.
As for other issues that you raised, many of them certainly require serious consideration, both of the Government and the State Duma. On some of the issues, a broad discussion with public organisations will probably be required.
In general, if we are going to make decisions at the legislative level and amend laws, the problem will certainly require professional input and consideration from all sides, so as not to make things worse or cause harm.
In general, I would like to thank you for the work done in 2016. I hope that together we can work effectively to ensure the unconditional protection of all the rights and legitimate interests of our citizens.
In this sense, the activity of the Human Rights Commissioner in the Russian Federation is very useful and complements the efforts of government agencies to uphold the rights of Russian citizens. So thank you very much.
Tatiana Moskalkova: Thank you very much. I will convey your words of gratitude to the staff of the Human Rights Commissioner and the authorised representatives in the regions. Your support is very important to them.
We have reached a higher level of interaction with the State Duma and the Federation Council. Last year both houses passed the changes to the regulations allowing the Commissioner’s report to be considered at a higher level, to adopt resolutions on it and to discuss it more thoroughly and effectively.
Vladimir Putin: Very well. Thank you.